Top Philippine communist rebel arrested: army

A top Philippine communist rebel with a $128,000 bounty on his head was arrested on Tuesday, the military said.

The arrest of Filemon Mendrez, the country's sixth most-wanted man, comes amid a Christmas ceasefire and as the government and rebels are engaged in high-level peace talks aimed at ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies.

Mendrez, a key New People's Army rebel leader, will be held without bail and is due to stand trial, an army statement said, but details on the criminal cases against him were not disclosed.

The interior ministry had placed a 5.25 million peso ($128,000) bounty on his head, it added.

Major General Jose Mabanta, the army chief of the central Philippines, described the arrest as a "law enforcement" action that had no bearing on the peace negotiations and the Christmas truce, which began last week.

"Law enforcement operations shall continue even as we observe a suspension of offensive military operations and ceasefire. This is part of (the army's job) of protecting communities, government and private establishments," he added.

The Maoist rebels have been waging an armed rebellion to seize power since 1969, and more than 30,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the government.

The military estimates the current NPA strength at about 4,000 fighters, significantly down from more than 26,000 at its peak in the late 1980s.

The chief government peace negotiator met his communist counterpart in the Netherlands last week, 13 months after Manila rejected rebel demands that earlier led to the talks being suspended.

The truce lasts until January 15, and the negotiators said they agreed to meet again early next year.

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